Dark Alley
“Mandelstam Lane” (1935)

What the hell sort of street is this?
Mandelstam Lane.
Diabolical name!
Twist and twist
And it all comes out the same:
More kinked than the kinks in a madman’s brain.

Well, a ruler he was not.
I’ll say, and his morals hardly lily.
And that’s why this street,
Or rut, really,
Or pit pickaxed to the tune of Goddamn!—
Goes by the name of Mandelstam.


There is an overwhelming tenor of self-disgust which pervades this poem, an outrage and frustration over one’s current estate. Try as one may to change our status (a ruler he was not) or even our morality (hardly lily), everything ends up just as it was before, without any hope of restoration. Even more, the street itself which bears our name devolves from street, to rut, and finally a pit dug in godless immorality. The very mention of our name is synonymous with infamy.